Now midway through a five year project, this Big Lottery funded initiative is making a huge difference to families coping with Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.
The Empower Project supports families of children under 12 years who have been diagnosed or are waiting to be diagnosed with Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia with a range of social events to create opportunities for families to meet and learn from eachother and develop the skills and confidence to support their child in the best possible way. The project also organises training workshops to help address areas of concern for parents and the wider family circle, such as Managing Emotions, ASD and puberty; ASD and Girls.
Empower Project Manager, Marie McCloy explains that because the project also aims to raise awareness among the wider community, it targets health and educational professionals, schools, childcare providers and any voluntary groups working children with Autism, Dyslexia or Dyspraxia.
One of the Empower Project’s real success stories is the Toibin Youth Centre at Moortown where they run a ‘study club’ for children with autism. Since the first Saturday Club meeting in October 2016, the number of children attending with a disability or additional need has grown steadily with almost one hundred from all over Mid Ulster attending the monthly club on a regular basis.
Activities facilitated by Empower so far this year include Lego, Circus Skills, Go Fly Your Kite, Claycrazy, Primary Colours Sensory Arts and Crafts. Tobin also hosts Carers’ Coffee Mornings and Sensory Saturdays to provide additional support for families.
Earlier this year, Tobin Youth Centre completed a £77,000 Rural Development funded renovation project to provide additional facilities for the Saturday Club members. The improved facilities include an accessible toilet with full size changing bed and a safe and secure outdoor play area.
The response from parents has been amazing says, Centre manager Laura Hagan.
“The Saturday Club gives parents the motivation to go somewhere as a family. Before we had our improved facilities, an easier option for them would have been to stay at home, but we have created a safe and secure environment where all the family can relax and enjoy time together.
“Families have told us that the network of support they get from the Saturday club has been invaluable and this has had a positive impact on the mental health, confidence and social skills of all the family. The Saturday Club promotes inclusion and helps the children make friends.”
Laura says that one of the things she hears most from parents of autistic children is that they feel isolated but the support network created by Tobin Youth Centre is invaluable.
One mother says new facilities have made a huge difference to her family.
“As a mother of two young children with additional needs, knowing that they are safe and cannot get out is a huge thing. There are too many places that aren’t suitable for children or adults with additional needs but Tobin is both inclusive and functional and one of the few places in Northern Ireland that caters for all the family.”